Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Gaddafi and Company

At the London conference of the coalition involved in trying to dislodge Muammar Gaddafi from Libya, Hillary Clinton declared she had met with representatives of the rebels, doctors, lawyers, obviously people interested in bringing about a pro-American government, who have been recognized by France’s right-wing president. Yet almost simultaneously, our President sounded a more cautious note.

Why?  Because as the changing fortunes of battle show, Libyans are not all determined to dump the baby with the bath water.  As in Syria, many may simply want to make the left-inspired regime more democratic, rather than become part of the world capitalist system that has done harm on a planetary scale. That is why by offering his people more freedom within a Baathist (Arab socialist) regime, Bashar el-Assad will have a better chance of remaining in power than did Mubarak or Tunisia’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, both staunch conservatives.

Obsessed with the War on Terror, and secondarily with the threats occasioned by the Sunni-Shi’a divide, Americans still do not comprehend that spreading the wealth is part of the message of Islam. Those fighting on Libya’s dusty roads, while others are comfortably ensconced in London, may simply want to get rid of a man who, while touting revolution, lived the life of a Sheik, as shown in pictures of one of his London homes this morning.

Unlike the neatly delineated Cold War, the right/left divide is now playing out across the planet, and across religious boundaries. That is why the President of the most powerful country has a more nuanced approach to each episode in this upheaval than his Secretary of State.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The World is Angry and its Leaders are Helpless

Is it possible that no one sees what’s happening?  Events of the scope and magnitude that have been building for the last two months cannot be met with one-off strategies and tactics. It has taken one hundred and sixty-three years for the slogan made famous in the Communist Manifesto “workers of the world, unite!” to happen: it is not happening under the direction of ‘vanguards’, as Marx and Engels expected, and under seemingly different banners, the upheavals taking place in the Middle East are all about equity, and will continue. Their variegated origins broke no single solution, however, the solutions, like the motivations, have an over-arching unity.

The protesters rise up from different parts of the political and religious spectrum, but share a determination to end the status quo imposed by the various regimes that rule each country. Some want more ‘freedom‘ i.e., the opportunity to become rich. Others want more security, i.e., the right to survive in dignity.  Similarly, their respective leaders cannot take concerted action, because they constitute different enemies vis a vis their respective peoples.

The kerfufle over who is to fill the United States’ shoes in managing the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi is merely a symptom: led by the United States since the Second World War, the West has systematically rejected all notions of world government, precisely because it implies a common search for equity. (The label has been ‘totalitarianism’.) Now it is too late.  We have no purposeful disaster response capability, thousands of nuclear weapons still exist, and we have no common goals.

Each leader defends his belief system. But perhaps, beneath the surface, lies an unspoken agreement: that the planet will be unable to nourish nine billion people, and those who possess the means must focus on escape.

Whether the tacit decision is that the powerful must unite to start anew on another planet, or that millions must be eliminated, the millions will continue to rise up, even as the chaos unleashed by our mindless abuse of nature continues.

The article by the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Store, appearing in the current (April 7th) issue of the NYR, how much further along the social-democratic Scandinavians are in their thinking compared to the capitalist holdouts. Alas, dated barely three weeks ago, his exquisitely reasoned case for dialogue with the Muslim world reads like a last hurrah, as six more countries, all with different grievances, follow the Egyptian lead and the most powerful Emperor is suddenly without clothes.

Nobody knows where things will go from here.  If I had to pick those most likely to survive in a world that defies prediction, it would be the increasing number of small communities practicing simpler lifestyles and consensus decision-making.  To remain transfixed by the latest news bulletins is as useless as focusing on the week’s football matches.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Libya is not Egypt, Tunisia - or Cuba

The revolts, revolutions and wars that have suddenly erupted in the Arab world have taken the West by surprise because we no nothing about their antecedents.

Anyone who can read French will find an excellent background piece written by an Arab specialist, Mohamed Hassan on www.michelcollon.infoLibye-revolte-populaire-guerre.html?lang=fr. The takeaway is that Libya’s largely tribal society lacked the means to build on Ghaddafi’s revolution, whereas neither Egypt nor Tunisia ever had one.  This explains why Egyptians and Tunisians who took to the streets were seeking more equity, while Libyans, disappointed with Ghaddafi’s ‘revolution’ are seeking more freedom.

As for Iraq, it already had a relatively developed civil society when Saddam Hussein instituted a socialist-inspired regime, providing free education and health care; alas, Saddam continued the megalomaniac leadership that had for decades tried to take over Kuwait, and was a brutal dictator.

The Iranian revolution brought Shi’a Islam - the Islam of the downtrodden - to power for the first time in modern history, in a country whose sophisticated, educated, middle class resented not only its attention to the poor, but its medieval religious aspect.

I was in Cuba when the Egyptian crisis broke, and Latin American intellectuals meeting with Fidel Castro in a six hour televised roundtable, wondered what it might mean for the regime that had inspired their countries’ break with feudalism and American-style capitalism, but where coffee, cooking oil and rice were still rationed after fifty-two years of American blockade and encouragement of revolt.

As Barack Obama surely knows from his conversations with Brazil’s social democratic leaders, a Latin America that is no longer America’s back yard has tends to want development to benefit the many, and will not support efforts to topple any government which, however brutally or clumsily, is trying to level the playing field, for example, Mugabe.

In his role as elder statesman and op-ed writer, Fidel hammers home the message that nuclear power and climate change are the world’s two overriding threats. Were it not for the fact that most socialists tend to agree with his assessment, he would almost seem to be saying that political regimes are irrelevant. The Communist Party Congress to be held next month after more than a decade, will probably emphasize the planetary threat to the physical ‘nation’ while renewing its commitment to the cooperative aspects of  ‘socialism’ required  to solve both national and planetary challenges.

When Americans contemplate each day’s crop of upheavals, they need to bear in mind that socialists and intellectuals are inclined to support any regime that has a com-munity-based approach to problem solving rather than an individual one.  For the United States, the upheavals in the Arab world are about geo-politics - oil and Israel - while for most of the world’s leaders, they are, in one form or another, about equity.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Empire Strikes Again

Three years ago, when the financial meltdown occured, Iceland, and later Ireland, went into default.  Every country on the planet was affected in one way or another, but the hardest hit were those who had most wholeheartedly bought into the American system.  As Lula da Silva, then President of Brazil underlined in an oblique reference to the IMF’s often harmful requirements of developing economies: “It was blue-eyed people who caused this.”

Now the world holds its breath as we await the final word on the possible melt-down of two nuclear reactors in Japan, following a huge earthquake and a tsunami.  Many Japanese must be remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki as they contemplate the possibility that even peaceful nuclear power can be deadly, wondering whether it was worth the risk when they decided to follow an American led world into nuclear power.

As the pictures on our TV screens make abundantly clear, there is one force that humans cannot stand up to, and that is nature; yet failing to stand up to America increasingly put us at the mercy of that greater power.

The synchronicity* between the Japanese catastrophe and the putsch in Wisconsin could be significant.  America’s heretofore docile workers could create another kind of tsunami: a prolonged general strike that would compel the Empire to join world efforts toward a more equitable and safer future.

* The simultaneous occurrence of two or more causally unrelated events, which nonetheless have meaning for the observer.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Carry the Constitution - and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights!

Mao had his Little Red Book, Ghaddafi has his Little Green Book, and we have our Constitution, which comes in many colors, but is read by relatively far fewer citizens. Recently, Tea Party candidates and representatives have taken to carrying the Constitution, claiming that it provides for certain things that they wish to enact, or that it bans things that their opponents have enacted.

From their constant references to it, one might assume it is a lengthy, complicated document. The fact is, the Constitution would not take the average person more than an hour to read.  As the battle for workers’ rights heats up for the first time in decades, it is worth knowing that the Constitution says nothing about socialism, an idea still waiting for a name when it was written, it says nothing about work.

Nothing at all.

The Constitution is about who rules, how rulers are elected, the limits on their pay, and what they may rule about. Treaties are singled out as being the purview of the Congress.  Article X states that “issues not delegated to the the United States nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”.

It deals in detail with the court system and establishes habeus corpus. Twentieth century amendments, deal with the direct election of Senators, the prohibition of liquor, repeal of prohibition, women’s suffrage, the terms of the President and Congress, Limitation of presidents to two terms, voting in the District of Columbia, poll taxes, presidential disability and succession, suffrage for eighteen year-olds, and congressional salaries.

That’s the closest the Constitution comes to discussing labor rights.

May I suggest that future mass rallies hold aloft vividly colored copies of the Constitution, and that signs and speakers point out what it does not contain.

Although much jurisprudence has aded to the complexity of this recipe for minimal government, and anyone can interpret its original articles, the phrase: “issues not delegated to the the United States nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”, would seem to leave the matter of how to organize work, to the people.

And the people can turn for guidance to another document, drafted by an international panel that included Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the recently deceased President Franklin Roosevelt, and approved by the General Assembly of the united Nations in 1948. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights spells out all the protections to which individuals are entitled, regardless of the country in which they live.

They include:
Article 20:
1) Everyone has the right to peaceful assembly and association.
2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 22
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security, and is entitled to realization through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23
1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and comfortable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including a reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25
1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being o himself and of his family, including food, clothing, hosing and medical care and necessary social service and the right to security in the vent of unemployment, sickness disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance.  All children whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Americans should consider updating the Constitution, and and meanwhile, evaluate legislation according to the same principles as the rest of the world, even if the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the United States subscribes, sounds like socialism.